This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for a nationwide ban on the use of mobile devices—such as cell phones and Blackberrys—while driving. According to the board, more than 3,000 deaths in 2010 can be attributed to drivers distracted while using a portable electronic device (read the NTSB’s fact sheet, “Put the Brakes on Distracted Driving”).
“The NTSB is taking a very strong stand on this issue because we’re seeking red flags when it comes to distraction, with both hand-held and hands-free,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman told the Wall Street Journal in an interview.
“It may seem like it’s a very quick call, a very quick text, a tweet or an update,” Hersman said in an earlier statement. “But accidents happen in the blink of an eye.”
The ban poses a particular threat to companies that have employees who drive as part of their workday. Some experts believe, if employers don’t already have mobile device policies in place, now is the time to implement them.
"If an employee had a car accident while talking on a cell phone, those policies help employers establish that they were not vicariously liable because the employee was not carrying out their job duties by talking on the phone, and/or that the employer wasn’t negligent by permitting their employees to use a cell phone while driving," Harry Weitzel, a labor and employment partner at Pepper Hamilton, told the Orange County Register this week.
While some states, such as New York and Washington, have laws against any driver using mobile devices, others don’t. In the 2010 article “How to Create a Cell Phone Policy,” Inc. magazine writes, “Even if your state doesn't have such legislation, your policy should completely prohibit drivers from using cell phones during work hours—especially in company-owned transportation. In the event of an accident, an injured party will likely sue the company—not the employee.”